Welcome to my word for 2018: FLOW.

One Little Word is a project created and developed by Ali Edwards. If you so wish, you can sign up for a year-long workshop. It involves monthly creative prompts wherein you invite your chosen word into your life, reflect on it, and record how it is moving you.

Last year’s word, LIGHT was a good choice. I honestly can feel the changes it has inspired in me. To illustrate, as I type this, it is mid-December and I am exhausted. I came home from school today to see my big, beautiful Christmas tree toppled over, decorations broken and strewn across the carpet, right next to a super-sized pet accident. No, I’m not making this up. And I’m actually rather impressed at how calm I am. At other times in my life, something like this would have caused a headache, rage, tears and/or all of the above. When I walked in and saw the disaster, I shook my head, said “Wow”, and immediately started taking pictures because it’s just that damn absurd it’s actually funny. I tweeted out a sarcastic comment about Monday showing up on a Wednesday, and then I got to work cleaning up in silence.

This time last year was also very difficult. Among stupid things like pet accidents and things toppling over, my sister was also diagnosed with leukemia. Thankfully, I haven’t had anything that awful happen again this year (fingers crossed). While I was pondering my 2017 word, I knew I wanted to not let life’s heaviness weigh me down, because when I let the heaviness get to me, it usually drags me down for a long time. I chose the word LIGHT because I wanted to approach life with an emotional hovering above the events of the days: to approach everything with lightness. I distinctly and purposefully used my One Little Word in my grad school classes this summer. Despite the gnawing imposter syndrome that made me cry one afternoon, I reminded myself, “Lightly, Teri. Lightly”…and it all worked out just fine. In fact, I had a great time.

A few days ago I was thinking about words for 2018, so I looked at my journal entries from last year. FLOW didn’t appear on that list, and to be completely honest, it just popped into my head. The more I looked into it by researching definitions and quotations, the more it spoke to me. Here are some of the phrases that won me over:

  • to run like water; move in a current or stream
  • pour out
  • smooth and pleasing continuity
  • be plentiful; be full and overflowing
  • rise of the tide
  • continuous forward movement
  • flux; fluid; expansion
  • to be sure without breaking or splitting
  • to accept, rather than resist a development

Here are some quotations that are speaking to me:

Water flows because it is willing.

Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.

One who can learn to flow with the current as well as manage the current is the successful one.

Stay curious, stay open. Let your imagination flow, let your mind wander. Flow with, not against. Surrender from certainty.

Where focus goes energy flows.

Because my Chinese element is Water, FLOW is an excellent fit for my personality. FLOW is about easing up on control and opening up to the energy of life and of love. If I am more fluid, I hope that 2018 will be a year of unfolding and expanding.

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The writing prompt I had my students respond to recently asked them to reflect on what they are evangelical about. I wrote about my passion for my personal writing practice.

On November 16, 2011, I bought myself a journal and wrote the first entry of my adult life. On the opening page I wrote, “It’s time to start dreaming again”, and I earnestly thought that this was what my journal was going to be about. Dreaming, goal setting, visioning, etc.

And it sort of was. But it also became a best friend, a confidante, a physical extension of my heart and mind, and the place I ran to when I needed to process things. It became my mindfulness practice, and the self-portrait that was drawn was a philosophy course, where I was both the professor and the learner.

This is why I am evangelical about the power of personal journaling. So much so in fact I gave a presentation about my journey at a divisional PD Day. I called it: “Wellness and Personal Growth Through Literacy”.

I had about 25 people attend my session. Half of them I knew well enough, and others were strangers. Being that as it was, it was nothing short of terrifying. I was terrified of the people that knew me because I was about to reveal my very personal story of becoming healthy again (that they may not know about), and I was terrified of the strangers because their expectations would probably not be met.

But it turned out well. And it was AWESOME to see 25+ adults engaged in personal, quiet reflection. I put on some soft, instrumental music and gave them the space. It broke my heart to have to interrupt them in order to prepare for the next session. I honestly think some of them really didn’t want to stop.

I’m not egotistical enough to think that my session was all that inspiring. Rather, it became clear to me that we are starving for quiet reflection.

One of my colleagues whom I didn’t really expect to be at the session was there. I didn’t know her that well, and when she told me she was coming to the talk it made me feel bad. I honestly thought that it wouldn’t really offer her anything. I was like, “Are you sure you want to do this?” And then, at one moment in the session, she got up to leave and I thought she actually looked upset. Right away, I thought, “She hates it.” She was very quiet throughout the whole thing.

As it turns out, she sent me an email the next day thanking me. Apparently, the session made her think and think and think. She got herself a journal, started writing, and now over a year later, she’s still at it every day. I asked her how she felt and she said she felt amazing, like she didn’t “need therapy”. Some days it’s nothing but a grocery list, but like Julia Cameron implies in The Writer’s Waythe act of quiet, reflective writing is an opportunity to clear the cobwebs of the mind. That way, anything else that enters is more clear, maybe even crystallized.

I find that my faithful journalling has sharpened my skill at filtering out useless, self-destructive thoughts. Because I record them, I empty myself of them, and they have moved in to a container that has no judgment.

Even though Chapters has a giant wall of empty journals in various shapes, sizes, colours and textures, buying the vessel isn’t enough. It’s giving yourself the time to fill it. And paradoxically, while you’re emptying yourself on the page, you’re filling yourself up.

People often ask if I re-read my entries, and yes, I do. A few times a year, I’ll flip through the current journal I’m in, and once a year, usually around New Year’s, I’ll flip through the old ones as well. Time is MAGIC, you guys. It is fascinating to study the thoughts you’ve had in the past.

There is a TED talk I show my grade tens (that becomes a writing prompt) called “The Psychology of the Future Self” and in Dan Gilbert’s speech he says: “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting, and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been.” I know this is true on an intimate level because I have taken the time to record who I am, and now I can look back on my growth.

The key to this working for you is self-compassion. While there may be entries I cringe at now, that was Teri then. I imagine that I may look back on this blog post in a few years time and shake my head at myself. And that’s OK. The acceptance of my transient Self has changed my life. Because I am a teacher, and I see the growth of my students over a three-year period, I have been trained to look at myself with the same patient eyes.

I am so glad I started this practice and stuck to it. Now that I have six- years worth of practice behind me, the sheer amount of recorded growth is motivating me to continue. Had I abandoned it six months in, it wouldn’t be the gift that it is to me.

And if this sounds like something you want to do, just start. Make it a routine, if you can. You can buy an expensive, leather-bound journal, or a dollar-store, coil bound notebook. I have all of the above, and I love no one more than another. If you give it one year, I bet it will change you.

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TO KEEP ONE’S TREASURE PROTECTED

Within the lump of coal the flame lies hidden,

within its darkness hides the diamond’s glory

all unseen from without, it must be imagined –

the fire that heats the house, the wedding ring

sparkling with future promise. But what would be

the coal’s choice if coal could be said to choose?

 

All day I’ve been trying to imagine the ones

who withhold themselves – arms folded across chests,

or hands buried deep in their pockets. The ones

who remain a few steps back from life, who feel

possessed of a treasure which they didn’t wish

to offer the world, as if they wore their smiles

 

on the insides of their faces. Is this an attempt

to save themselves for the truly important moment?

Or could it suggest the world isn’t good enough?

Or are they trying to be complete in themselves –

both lover and loved, consumer and consumed,

as if one could be complete without the world?

 

What does it mean never to offer, not necessarily

to be selfish but never generous as if afraid

to spill a valuable part of the self, something

not seen as golden until it is gone, as if Self

were a red bird that one squeezes in the hands

thwarting its wish to fly off into the pine trees?

 

Those withholders in the doorway, those lumps

of coal who flee the fire: to see a man slip

to the sidewalk without going to help, to know

a song and not sing it, to watch the hungry

get hungrier, the defeated continue their steady

collapse. Our bodies are coinage. Spend it. Fling

 

the coins upward, hear them jangle on the street.

What happens to the souls of the miserly?

A man creeps down to his basement at midnight,

digs a hole, unearths a box, unfastens a lock.

Inside, a little dust, a spider, two lumps of coal.

A sigh – isn’t it like a scream turned inward?

 

  • Stephen Dobyns

 

Imagine someone you respect said that this poem was “you”. How would you interpret that?

Is it an insult? Who is the “person” in the poem this “you” is in place of? The speaker? Or one of “the ones who withhold themselves”?

I ask this because someone said that this poem was me.

Immediately, it bothered me. I assumed the person who said that this poem is “Teri”, saw me not as the speaker – the one that encourages people to “spend” themselves – but rather as one of those who believes “the world isn’t good enough”, or  who”[feels] possessed of a treasure which they don’t wish to offer the world”, and as one “not necessarily…selfish, but never generous.”

Because I interpret the tone of the poem as the speaker passing judgment of “those” people, I’ll admit it hurt my feelings. This poem is telling me to “spend” my “treasure”, so does this mean I am supposed to be more outgoing? Am I not giving enough of myself? Am I miserly and arrogant and detached and cold? “AS IF one could be complete without the world”. What of those people who feel pretty complete with themselves? Is there something wrong with them?

It’s funny, you know. Someone said this poem was me, and I scoured the poem searching for some hidden truth about myself, rather than searching deeply within myself for some hidden truth about myself. They say that the best judge of yourself is you, but isn’t that a type of tunnel vision? All of these questions certainly got me thinking – how much should I weigh external feedback about my identity?

Does another person’s interpretation of me matter?

So before my feelings are too hurt by someone’s interpretation of me, I also have to ask how that someone interprets that poem. And I also have to ask Mr. Dobyns why he has that particular opinion of people who “remain a few steps back from life”, because it seems to me, they’re the types that do a lot of interpreting of themselves, too, and not just others.
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“Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the LIGHT is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.”

  • Mary Oliver, from “The Ponds”

 

Welcome to my word for 2017: LIGHT.

One Little Word is a project created and developed by Ali Edwards. If you so wish, you can sign up for a year-long workshop. It involves monthly creative prompts wherein you invite your chosen word into your life, reflect on it, and record how it is moving you.

This is my third year for the One Little Word project. After a not-so successful inaugural year, I shied away from possibly participating again. While I won’t be partaking in the workshop from Ali, I will take the same approach I did last year where I write monthly reflections about how my word is manifesting itself.

Last year’s word, CENTER, was amazing. It’s exactly what I needed. It had to do with listening to my true, “centred” self, and the peace that radiates from that place. During the year, it also helped me to have a visual representation for my word to call to mind when I needed to use it as a sort of mantra. For last year’s word, I chose ripples as my symbol.

While my 2015 word, AIM, had potential, it ended up working against my well-being. It’s not the word’s fault; rather, it was the expectations I put on the word that hurt me. I wanted 2015 to be a year of forging ahead with my goals, and I focused on a sort of end result. This made the word more of a talisman, or magical incantation that I assumed would bring some new joy into my life. However, what I have learned about myself is that my emotions have seasons, and when I entered into the “winter” of my moods, AIM became a tool for self-harm. I became a disappointment to myself.

My OLW for 2015 wasn’t a waste, however. I learned from that year that my word works best when it is more wide in scope. It needs to have multiple angles and definitions and not be tied to a specific, concrete goal. CENTER had a lot of different directions (ironically) that were available for interpretation and I need to have that sort of wiggle room in my consciousness with how I treat myself. If I don’t have that space, I can be a wicked taskmaster.

The other weird pride I had for AIM and CENTER was that they were words that weren’t commonly used for this project. Each year, Ali posts all the words that people choose and AIM and CENTER were words that I had never seen in previous years. LIGHT is an incredibly common word choice for this project, but that’s OK. It’s not about originality; it’s about what the word means for me.

Part of my practice for settling on a word is to make note of its definition(s), its antonyms and synonyms, and choosing an icon that will help me focus on what I want it to mean for me. For LIGHT, I chose a feather rather than the more obvious light bulb or some similar thing, because it’s the gentle, weightlessness the word carries that I want to focus on for 2017. Here are some of the definitions/notes I’ve made about LIGHT that helped me conceptualize my word and bring it alive for me:

  • the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible
  • to set to burning; ignite
  • to become illuminated
  • luminous, radiant energy
  • gentle or delicate
  • to cause to brighten
  • to guide
  • to come to rest; to settle upon

Other words that have connections to LIGHT that will inspire me throughout 2017:

  • luminous
  • clear
  • glowing
  • unclouded
  • ease
  • airy
  • weightless
  • graceful
  • resilient
  • relaxed
  • shine

If it’s not already obvious, I LOVE WORDS. And even though LIGHT is so seemingly simple, I love that it isn’t. I love the complexity that a multi-layered word has because it allows me to apply it more easily to nearly everything.

LIGHT is about radiating gentle energy, having clarity, and letting go of whatever weighs me down.

How can I be LIGHT in this moment? How can I be LIGHT in 2017?

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Like many other Canadians, I am still reeling after the televised Tragically Hip concert from Saturday night. I am, perhaps, unnaturally emotional about it. I’ve been listening to their music non-stop for about five days now and whenever I scroll #TheHip on Twitter, I start to cry again.

Tragically-Hip-final-show

from http://vocm.com/news/video-fans-flood-the-tragically-hip-with-love-on-final-tour/

Yes, it stems from a palpable nostalgia and an awareness of a great goodbye. But I think there’s more to it. This moment is much bigger than that, and paradoxically, it is much more intimate.

I am overwhelmed with what I witnessed.

I saw and heard millions of people across the timezones singing the exact same words I was, at the exact same time. I saw my Prime Minister (who is of my generation) watching and listening to what I was, at the exact same time. I saw both women and men wiping the same tears away that I was, at the exact same time. And I saw, in solidarity with those millions of others, a band, and most notably its frontman, singing and speaking to us about things that only we understand and know, in a very focused, modest, Canadian way. More importantly, our national broadcaster stopped highlighting Canada on the world stage in competition, to highlighting Canada on its own stage in celebration. For a few hours, our window shrunk from the planet to just our neighbourhood.

Many writers, thinkers and politicians have mused about Canadian identity, and how, for years, it has been hard to articulate who we are as a nation. Besides self-deprecating jokes about moose, maple syrup or hockey, if someone were to ask me what a Canadian personality is, I would have a hard time articulating it. I mean, it’s only been fairly recently that two distinct national symbols (the flag and the anthem) became “official” emblems of the country: 1965 and 1967, respectively.

And so like an individual plagued with insecurity, we often look outside of ourselves for validation of who we are. For every Hollywood celebrity that happens to be Canadian,  it’s the Canadians who are most likely to remind Hollywood that these celebrities are Canadian. Or, any time that our big brothers to the south recognize us at all (like this article from the New York Times), we blush with pride because, well, the popular kids noticed us.  We need someone to give us attention in order to remind us that we are here.

And yet, that Saturday night was excellent proof of what we need to do instead: to look within to see who we are. Not what we mean to others, but what we mean to ourselves. That Saturday night was an uplifting evening of national dignity, and even though it was somewhat of a sore spot that The Tragically Hip never made it to the “big time” outside our borders, this is the exact point of tension that gives us the greatest pride.

mansbridge tweet

The very fact that The Tragically Hip are almost exclusively loved by Canadians, means we do have a distinct identity. And this is precisely why they mean so much to us. While nearly twelve million people tuning into that concert may not seem like much to anyone else, that’s roughly 1/3 of our entire country. Those are our numbers, and it’s mesmerizing.

So it’s a bittersweet mixture of emotion that I’ve experienced since that concert. It’s like, as a nation, we’ve just earned our wings, and with Gord Downie’s imminent departure, we’re being pushed out of the nest too soon. Who will be our songbird now? Who will tell our stories to us? Who will hold up this mirror into our future?

We have to look within, and whenever we feel that distinct Canadian pride, we have to write about it, talk about it, sing about it. We need it to be the story we tell ourselves.

 

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